Article by Daisy Pledge, Account Director at Grammatik Agency

women in tech, soft skillsOn International Women’s Day, I find myself revisiting the ongoing neverending global debate around how to increase the number of women in tech.

Within Tech PR, the numbers of women are substantially higher than other areas of tech. Perhaps we’re leading the way in how we approach hiring but in general it is not the marketing and PR teams that struggle to hire women – it’s the more technical roles that are lacking women. But how can companies make a change?

The argument against quotas

I was staunchly against quotas for a long time believing we deserved our place and should be rewarded on merit of our work ethic, successes and prowess. I was in the camp that thought along the same lines as this Guardian article – if we used quotas the same women would be hired. The jobs would either go to women already known to the tech industry – there’s no limit on how many board roles a single person can fill – or to token women hired above their station and experience in a move to deliberately overwhelm and burn them out so it can be proven – women don’t belong here. And I strongly believed quotas that forced companies to hire women was not equality.

The government tried to introduce “suggestions” over quotas. First there was the Davies Review, introduced in 2011, which, by the end of the five year review, succeeded in increasing the percentage of women on FTSE 100 boards from 12.5% to 26.1% and on FTSE 250 boards from 7.8% to 19.6%. There was also a dramatic reduction in all-male boards from 152 in 2011 to no all-male boards in the FTSE 100 and only 15 in the FTSE 250. It’s great they achieved their goals through voluntary action, but I don’t remember the nation being made up of 25% women and 75% men.

We move on to the next voluntary action the government led. The Hampton-Alexander review, which launched in 2016, recently achieved its goal to increase female representation to 33% of board positions at FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 firms by the end of 2020. The number of female directors at FTSE-100 firms has increased by 50%, with women holding more than a third of boardroom roles in the FTSE 250.

The argument for quotas

Whilst seeing progress happen without quotas is positive, as a woman working in Tech PR I don’t think they go far enough in terms of percentage goals or businesses being asked to change. I thought, perhaps naively, that if we helped promote enough women in tech roles, making sure they were speaking at events, talking about the lack of representation on a regular basis to their peers, that change might actually happen. Like PwC’s report on women in tech, I thought increasing the visibility of role models would increase the number of women looking to enter those careers. But does any of this work without quotas?

In a way yes – as mentioned above female representation in the FTSE 100 and FTSE 250 boards has increased but what about further down the line? And what about the wider areas of diversity than women? For example, in February 2021 it was revealed there are no Black chairmen, Chief Executive Officers or Chief Financial Officers in the FTSE 100.

CJ Bedford, an associate director at Grant Thorton said, “Quotas drive a particular set of behaviours and, inherently, there has to be some kind of positive discrimination in order to enable the change required.” But haven’t women been positively discriminated against since forever? And that’s not really what quotas mean – it’s clear that when we leave businesses, and the tech world, to do what they want only suggesting they increase diversity, they do very little to nothing.

How many industry events have you gone to where the panels have been 100% (probably white) men? How many times have you sat through sessions where senior industry professionals say things like “change needs to happen” or “we need to look at inspiring young girls at school” with almost no actual action taken?

Perhaps the change that needs to happen is the mindset around quotas followed by their introduction across every aspect of diversity – quotas that reflect the diverse makeup of a particular country and its regions, including quotas on women and men.

As a Tech PR on International Women’s Day, let’s ask ourselves how we can help make a change. Let’s teach men to be allies, let’s work on how we’re attracting and retaining women, let’s acknowledge our own bias and address it. There are many examples in those articles of ways to increase women in tech and I urge you all to read, learn and act.

Daisy PledgeAbout the author

Daisy is a PR professional, having worked across the TV, advertising, branding and technology sectors for over six years. Prior to joining Grammatik, Daisy launched an AR event tech app whilst consulting on PR and marketing for various agencies, companies and individuals.

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